The Lunar Rover and Eduardo San Juan

Update: I have written more on this. See this letter from an actual lunar rover designer, and further research into this topic.

Many years ago, I ran a site called, the Philippine Urban Legend Archive. In it I compiled chain email forwards and tales from traditional and contemporary Filipino folklore, debunking the more egregious ones, like the Art Bell Letter, the pearl shake health warning, Jose Rizal’s fatherhood of Hitler, and Eduardo San Juan’s invention of the Lunar Rover.

I haven’t touched the site for a while, but I recently got a long, rambling email appearing to be from Eduardo San Juan’s daughter representing his family, chiding me for dishonoring the man’s memory and accomplishments. I will paste it here for you in full, followed by a cursory debunk:

Dear Sir,

It seems that you are basing historical fact and knowledge on Google searches of very limited body of work. Mankind has stores of information that will never be hosted on any external webserver beyond any firewall.

Our Father, Eduardo C. San Juan, was a very positively charged creative who enjoyed a healthy sense of humor. He loved to laugh and joke around: and he would have just laughed out loud at the assertions published on your website about him, He would have said that “no one can know everything.” He would not have given it another thought. But his survivors have noted your points and find that the WWW audience would be better served with the truth. We do not want to see his technical competence and accomplishments disrespected merely because of individual disbelief that may have only be lightly researched and unsubstantiated. We are encouraged to communicate with you because you are a Christian, so fundamentally you are no doubt guided by truth and doing the right thing even when the right thing may be difficult. Please know that yes, indeed, he was the conceptual designer of Apollo 11 Lunar Rover (Moon Buggy, Rover, etc.) and the Articulated Wheel System.

Time and tide cannot change the facts. He had many successful designs the Rover was just one of many.


He was born in the Philippines, He graduated from Mapua Institute of Technology (MIT). He studied Nuclear Engineering at the University of Washington at one of the first programs in the nation in the 1950s. He was an naturalized American Citizen married to a foreign-born American.

Prior to this the Apollo Program, he was a troubleshooter for ICBMs (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles); he would ensure that those that did not emerge from their underground holding areas could.

It was 1960 in Huntsville, Alabama. Along with the cultural and social heritage, Huntsville was a wondrous place. A place of possibilities. After World War II, German V-2 rocket scientists were spirited away with one group taken to the USA and the other to USSR. The race for control of space was on. Wernher von Braun of Peenemünde fame and his Paperclip Scientists worked at Marshall Space Flight Center. The 1960’s were exciting ” . . . yet a turbulent time in history. John F. Kennedy became the 35th president of the United States; protests raged against segregation in the South and the Vietnam War; the American Football League was formed to rival the National Football League; FORTRAN was the standard computer programming language; and Chubby Checker introduced “The Twist.” It was also the year NASA — a new federal agency dedicated to civilian space exploration — created the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama–and many test were also conducted at nearby Redstone Arsenal. Both my Father and Mother worked at Boeing then not Lockheed. When my Father submitted the conceptual design for the Lunar Rover he submitted it via Brown Engineering, a company owned by Lady Bird Johnson.

Due to all the engineers and scientists in Huntsville, it was unlike any where in the South or the world. Because Father was a Filipino by birth, this did not invalidate his conceptual design of the Lunar Rover and other designs at that time. The Lunar Rover was just one of many. On one occasion, all NASA families, our family. assembled with all the other Paperclip scientists and their families. John F. Kennedy’s plane was landing and he gave a speech asking every engineer and scientist to do use their ingenuity, science, and talent–to do their utmost to put a man on the moon. No one ever thought that was not going to happen. It was a question of how well and when. The mix of booster propellant and Saturn C-5 boosters would rocket the astronauts to make the lunar shot. This was the best team that our Nation could assemble. Many were vets of WWII, they knew application and theory. They knew how to design to build and manufacture things that worked.


Eduardo C. San Juan was the only conceptual designer for the Lunar Rover and the Articulated Wheel System.

((Note: In engineering circles, the concept is a well understood step in a development process. This process is not unlike designing the information architecture and graphical user interface for a website. You as the creative have a vision, translate that concept to prototype to share your vision with others. This was pre-CAD. All drawings were to scale and done on paper by him. After the concept was proven and the contract accepted (in the case of the Rover by NASA) small teams are pulled together to address the details and weight and redundancy of certain components are built by others. Our Father did not build the electronic components and subcomponents for the Rover or transmitters and receivers as he was not an electrical engineer.))

During the final test demonstration to select one design from various submissions, his was the only one that worked. Thus, his design won the NASA Contract. His overall concept and specific design of the Articulated Wheel System was considered brilliant. Each wheel appendage was mounted not underneath the vehicle, but were outside the body of the vehicle

and each wheel was motorized. Each wheel could work independently of the others. It was designed to negotiate crater ingress and egress. The other vehicles did not make it into or out of the test crater. At that time, the Paperclip Scientists thought that the moon surface would have little or no traction, because in the 1960’s, they thought the moon was covered in 15 feet of moondust and debris. The mockup test site was covered in 15 feet of Styrofoam pellets. Difficult traction at best.

When you worked for certain companies or on certain contracts, you cannot own the patent on a design if it is stated in the contract. The company owned it or per the contract, the buyer or contract owner could patent the design. NASA provided an award ceremony; he was honored with others. When he left NASA, he had 300 engineers and scientists working for him. When he spoke at NASA, it was standing room only. The Paperclip Scientists liked his work and they liked him–and they like that he had a different accent than theirs.

In the 1970s at UC Berkeley legal ownership of code, programming, if considered functional but inelegant was considered technology and could be owned by the University. And if elegant, it was considered art and could not be patented or owned by the University.

He left the von Braun team in 1965, after working on many concepts for space shelters, the Lunar Module (called LEM), etc., he was not happy with the prelim design of the Space Shuttle as it supported a vertical takeoff and horizontal landing–thus doubling the structural stress and loads. He wanted a horizontal takeoff and landing. When engineers and scientists do not agree on approach, it is a technical matter, not personal. Von Braun said that he had 100 percent success with vertical takeoff with the V-2 Program in Peenemünde and he would not change. It could not be debated. Hard to argue with the boss, so Father and two other German PhDs left NASA for Lockheed in Sunnyvale, California where they worked on improving existing missile technology. His employment followed his employment with Boeing, Brown Engineering, and NASA.

You will find not find any notation of Lockheed and the Lunar Rover. He created the conceptual design long before he was offered a position at Lockheed.

At Lockheed, he made the front page of the Lockheed Star. Big deal news having an internationally recognized engineer-scientist join Lockheed. My Father was hired to address increasing propulsion and thus missile trajectory initially. He had many other assignments over the years. One for example, after the Space Shuttle blew up; my Father was asked by the Lockheed, CEO and friend, Dan Tellup. to get the Shuttle payloads in space, Father hadn’t done propulsion in years; he would often create the winning concept and then move to the next challenge. Later, he was Chief Systems Engineer on other–multiple programs–for ground lasers and space-based platforms, etc. But our Country’s had a need and his talent was required, so he’d take a hiatus from his program’s to get this job done.

Special circumstance, special request, and after all it was for NASA. Once you are part of the NASA family . . . you are always family.

In addition to his passion for his work and his love for his family, he was a huge mentor to local students. He spoke at school science fairs and to children in challenged economic areas to encourage them to follow their dreams and not be deterred by anthing. He “reached for the stars” and encourage them to do as well.

We have original documentation and film footage of the Lunar Rover and also of the electric model built to demonstrate the Articulated Wheel System. As many of our Father projects were classified during the last decades of his life, a low profile was preferred.

Many interviews and articles have been written about him and have been published since. National interviews. Many have claimed the title, but he did the work. Recognition from the Country, NASA, or the Smithsonian are not expected as many that built the Space Program and Apollo Missions have passed away.

Wernher Von Braun died in 1977 and Eduardo C. San Juan died in 1988. We ask that you please consider correcting your webpage.

Thank you for reading.

We honor him and respect his contribution,

Elisabeth San Juan for

The San Juan Family in California

I feel really, really bad dissecting this, because this was the guy’s daughter, but what I’ve researched on the topic and what I know about the Apollo program and NASA — which I have read up on extensively — still stands, appeals to Christianity and the discipline of design notwithstanding. There are several factual errors here, a few of which I will mention now:

  • The lunar rover was first used on Apollo 15, not Apollo 11.
  • The mobility system for the rover — including wheels — was designed by Delco/General Motors, for Boeing, for NASA’s MSFC, in 1970, after the contract had been awarded.
  • Von Braun only first wrote about the idea of a lunar rover in 1964.
  • San Juan allegedly expressed issues with the space shuttle design before he left Von Braun’s team in 1965 — but the first conceptual designs for the shuttle were only done in 1968.

For your reference, Marshall Space Flight Center’s brief history of the lunar rover, technical editing by Saverio Morea, who managed the project for MSFC.

At this time, I’ve sent emails off to Mike D. Wright, historian at Marshall Spaceflight Center, and Michael Lombardi, Boeing Company Historian, to set me straight and respond to these statements about Eduardo San Juan.

(Just a note: my fiancée had a great-great grandfather who liked to tell the folks that he had originally invented Eskimo Pies, and then they stole his idea. He did not, of course, really invent Eskimo Pies, but he had a lot of fun saying he did.)

Update: I have written more on this. See this letter from an actual lunar rover designer, and further research into this topic.


  1. Daniel says:

    I’m interested to see what Wright and Lombardi’s responses would be. Keep us posted.

    I must say your use of the the div overflow scrollbar here is totally appropriate (what a long letter!).

    Oh and did I ever mention I have a first cousin who’s a biochemist at NASA? ;)

  2. petite says:

    this is great! regardless of the outcome, just the fact that this “myth” is being discussed and details are being dug up about it is totally awesome. yes, please keep us posted.

    btw, thanks for putting a link to my previous post. :-)